This is the end.
My co-author and I spent most of last year trying—and failing—to write a fifth Detroit Next book. No matter what we did, we couldn’t make it work. We were either rewriting a plot we’d already done, or going in a direction we didn’t like. After months of little-to-no progress, we knew it was time to stop. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one.
When we started writing and publishing the Detroit Next series, the world was a very different place. This was before datapads and Google Glass and self-driving cars, before the revitalization of Detroit, before CRISPR took gene-altering out of the imagination and into every university lab, and before hacking had gone from stealing the design of a car company’s fender to something that could change the outcome of an election.
One thing we’ve always liked about reading and writing cyberpunk is the glimpse five minutes into the future. But it’s hard to write near-future stories when the world keeps catching up. We’re constantly trying to walk that line between a plausible future and a fantastical one. How do you do that while the line itself is moving so quickly?
By ending things now, we’re satisfied that we’ve left our characters in a good place, each with their own happy ever after. And as for Detroit itself? The Detroit of the future is probably going to be a whole lot like the Detroit of today—a city that’s struggling with a difficult past and looking for a brighter future. It will have some rich parts, some poor parts, and every citizen will love the city as it is, while wanting it to do better
We’re grateful that we got to spent time with those characters in that imaginary place. And we’re grateful that you spent that time with us. It’s been a good ride. Thanks for coming along.
And we’re not giving up writing—or even our collaboration. Harry and I still meet for breakfast every Sunday morning, where we share chapters of our (solo) works-in-progress. Harry is writing hard SF, while I have switched gears completely into a new genre with a new pen name. We will always be each other’s first readers, so even if you see a novel with only one of our names on the cover, you can be sure the other had a hand in it.
We wouldn’t want it any other way.
Nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished without a deadline.
I finished with half a day to spare. In fact, my final day was an easy one, and I only had to write a few hundred words today.
So how did I do it? How did I go from so far behind to easily ahead? I could think of all kinds of abstract reasons, from having a better schedule this week to coming to an easier part of the book. But the real reason I finished on time was because I had a deadline.
It’s funny. National Novel Writing Month is completely arbitrary. Nobody really cares if you write fifty thousand words of fiction in November. You don’t gain anything by finishing and you don’t lose anything if you fail. Reporting is done on the honor system—no one knows for sure if you’ve done what you said you did. But something about having that silly deadline made me want to meet it.
I pushed myself at the end, and I had a couple of very long days. I could have pushed myself just as hard in the beginning of the month. Only I didn’t, because things weren’t urgent yet. Deadlines have a wonderful way of narrowing a writer’s focus, so the writing becomes the highest priority. That’s what I love about them. A deadline names one goal, and one goal only, and that kind of tunnel vision is great for creativity.
In fact, I was wide awake most of last night, not because I was worried about the deadline but because I was excited about accomplishing my goal. I knew which chapter I wanted to work on and I was eager to get back to the keyboard. These last few days have been productive, happy ones for me, thanks to the pleasure of a deadline.
My new book was published on Tuesday. On Wednesday, it was free.
In this new world of ebooks, we’re used to seeing freebies. Indie authors put their books on sale for scandalously low prices, including giving copies away. Often, the first book in a series will be permanently free.
But those are older books, some of them years old. Certainly an author wouldn’t set the price of a brand-new book to free and then keep it there for five whole days?
Oh, yes, we would. My co-author and I released SLEEPLESS, our fourth “Detroit Next” book, on Tuesday. The book was free the very next day. It seems counterintuitive and backwards and flies in the face of all the traditional marketing advice we’ve been taught. So why would we do that?
One word: Amazon.
Amazon is really, really good at selling books. We are not good at selling books. If you judge by our reviews, we’re good at writing books, but we need Amazon’s help to sell them.
And Amazon wants to help us. It has sophisticated algorithms that are awesome at matching the right book with the right reader. But what the algorithms can’t do is guess. They need data. Lots and lots of data. The bots need to know who this book appeals to. What kind of reader likes books about near-future Detroit and a badass female PI and her hacker sidekick and a twisty mystery and nanotechnology run amok? Who buys such books?
We need to teach Amazon. We need to feed the algorithms a core set of interested readers so they use those readers as mirrors to find similar readers. Once it “learns” who buys books like SLEEPLESS, Amazon’s own marketing machine (emails and such) should kick in.
But we have to do this quickly. Amazon needs to understand readers of new titles within the first 30 days, or they’ll stop trying. And the best way to get SLEEPLESS into the hands of many readers quickly is to do a free run, and then advertise the freebie in reader-centric newsletters like Fussy Librarian and Freebooksy.
And it’s working! As of last night, SLEEPLESS was #3 in Amazon’s cyberpunk category and #4 in science fiction adventure stories. That’s amazing! Usually, books that climb that high in the charts have hundreds of positive reviews and we have none.
So that’s what we’re doing. I’m not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just a thing. This is the ebook world we live in now. And also? Honestly? We’ve tried everything else.
I hesitated writing this. I didn’t know if it was too much a peek behind the curtain, but I feel like I can be honest with you guys. And I also feel like I can ask for your help. As I mentioned, SLEEPLESS doesn’t have any reviews right now, and boy, could it use some. If you read SLEEPLESS, please give it a review. Reviews can be as long or as short as you’d like, and they don’t have to be positive to be helpful.
SLEEPLESS is free until Sunday night. And it’s the fourth “Detroit Next” book but the books can be read in any order, so don’t let that stop you from reading and reviewing.
Who knows? Maybe this won’t even work. Maybe SLEEPLESS will fizzle at full price. If it does, then we’ll all have learned something—you the easy way and me the hard way. In any case, I’ll report back in two weeks and let you know.
In the meantime, thank you in advance for the reviews. And happy reading!
This is my week to write.
I need a break. Lately, I’ve had too much internet, too much political news, too many interruptions, too much time in the kitchen and the laundry room and the car. Too much of trying to fit writing into the edges of my life. I’m craving long, uninterrupted hours to be creative. Forget chocolates and flowers and diamonds—a writer girl’s best friend is a quiet room with the day stretching out in front of her.
So I’m taking a week away. Not away from my house—I’m staying right here. But I’m taking a week away from the world. For the next seven days, I won’t socialize or do housework. I won’t read books or the news or the internet. I’ve put an autoresponder on my email and I won’t answer the phone unless it’s my mom calling.
My kids will be gone this week, so I’ll be home alone. I can wake up when I want, eat when I want, and go to bed when I want. I’ll let the crazy news cycle roll on without me for a few days.
I’m just going to write. I have a half-finished manuscript I set aside a few months ago and I’m aching to get back to it. I miss it the way you’d miss an absent lover. I want to lavish it with attention, get to know all its secrets, and write every page until I’m completely satisfied. I want to have my way with this book, and I don’t want to do it on the margins of my life. I want to give this book my full attention.
I’ve been trying to find a name for this week. It’s not a staycation, because that implies leisure. The words retreat and sabbatical make me think of relaxed study. A friend suggested unworkshop, which I like a lot but it still doesn’t quite fit.
Then I thought of the words “Productivity Break.” It’s an oxymoron. It’s also perfect. I’m taking a break from the world to be more productive.
See you on the other side.
[Photos: Bitstrips/Snap Inc.]
I have a new book out! My co-author and I have re-issued Viker, book three in the “Detroit Next” series.
Morris Payne is a viker, an elite hacker famous throughout the virtual world. But now, someone has connected his virtual life to his real one, and Morris is on the run. Armed only with a virtual pirate ship loaded with the latest defensive hardware, Morris is up against a dangerous enemy—an artificial intelligence who isn’t supposed to exist.
Although it says “book three” on the cover, this book can stand alone. We re-introduce the characters and the world, so it’s okay to jump in midway. (Although starting with book one is awesome too.)
The same cover artist is designing the whole series, and we love how this one looks. To us, it says “cyberpunk” without being too in-your-face about it.
Morris Payne would approve.
Viker is available on Amazon and other book retailers worldwide.
I have a new book out! My co-author and I have released Zoners, book two in the “Detroit Next” series.
Zoners continues the adventures of PI Aidra Scott. On a stake-out late one night, she sees her teenage son’s best friend jump a fence and head into the Zone–the ring of abandoned neighborhoods surrounding the now-thriving Detroit.
Officially, no one is supposed to live in the Zone. In reality, it’s the home of the hiding, the forgotten, and the criminal. Aidra avoids the area when she can. Tonight, she can’t.
Cut off from her high-tech assistant and all the resources of modern life, Aidra has to rely on her own wits to navigate the Zone. She finds unexpected allies in a larger-than-life reporter after the story of his career, an ambitious cop looking to prove himself, and a clever street rat just trying to survive. All Aidra wants is to find the kid she’s looking for and get out.
But it won’t be easy, especially after she makes an enemy of the local warlord who’s using the Zone to hide a dangerous piece of rogue technology.
Aidra is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Looks like her simple search-and-rescue won’t be so simple after all.
This book stands alone. Although it’s book two in the series, you don’t have to read book one first or have any familiarity with our world or characters. Does it help? Sure. Is it more fun? Absolutely. But trust me, you can jump in anywhere.
We were lucky enough to get the same cover artist as our last novel and we love how it turned out. The cover isn’t as “glowy” as the cover of Twisted, but we like the subtle 3-D effect.
I did it! I wrote over half a million words this year.
Back in January, I made a pact with my brother. We each committed to doing 2017 of something in the year 2017. For him, it was running 2017 kilometers. For me, it was writing 2017 pages (504,250 words).
My brother won the challenge. So did I. In fact, we both finished a week early! I finished my 2017th page on the 24th and he got his last steps in on Christmas day. We are proud of each other. And proud of ourselves. And really, really tired.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the challenge, so I’ll answer as many questions as I can here.
You: how did you keep track of how many words/pages you wrote? Did you count each one?
Me: At the end of each writing session, I did a quick word count and jotted down the total in a spreadsheet. I also kept track of what time I started and how long I wrote.
You: Did you learn anything from these spreadsheets?
Me: I learned that I average 1000 words an hour of rough draft. (That does not count editing/proofreading/publishing.)
I also learned that I was wildly inconsistent in the first three quarters of the year, with no set time of day to write. I put words on the page 6 or 7 days a week, which was good, but lacking a routine is how I fell behind in quarter three.
You: If you were behind in quarter three, how did you catch up and also write so much you finished a week early?
Me: In November, I took a class taught by the incomparable Becca Syme. The class changed my life. It sounds like an exaggeration, but I’m serious. This class changed my life.
The class was called “Write Better, Faster,” but really it should have been “learn how your brain works so you can get out of your own way.” It was the most gentle of instruction, but it kicked my ass into gear like nothing else. I learned how look honestly at my own process, know my strengths, and figure out what could be changed and what couldn’t. At the end of November I had a workable action plan, and the moment I started implementing it, the words started pouring out. This past month has been the most productive of my entire career and I’m happier too–probably because I’m working with my natural tendencies instead of against them.
You: So you took a nice class and you got your priorities in order, but readers only care about the finished product. Did you publish anything this quarter?
You: Anything else?
Me: Blog posts, book reviews, classroom materials for the workshop I teach and a monthly newsletter for readers. My co-author and I also wrote a fun short story exclusively for our newsletter subscribers.
You: How many words in this blog post?
Me: 568 words. Combined with the other words I wrote this week, it brings my total to over 509,000 words (2037 pages) for the year.
You: Awesome! What’s next?
Me: Well, today is my birthday. I think I’ll celebrate it by taking a nap.
The relaunch of the Detroit Next series.
I have a “new” book out! It’s a re-issue of a book my co-author and I wrote a few years ago called The Caline Conspiracy. Now it’s called Twisted, which is a way better title. It’s also got a better cover and we’re both listed as the author instead of relying on a shared pen name.
Twisted introduces PI Aidra Scott, who is investigating whether a genetically engineered dog killed its owner. The widow of the victim doesn’t think her pet is a killer and hires Aidra to clear her name. Aidra doesn’t want anything to do with dogs, genetically engineered or not. But the more she investigates, the more she’s convinced an innocent animal is being framed. And murder is just the beginning of the conspiracy.
About that cover… If the book is about a genetically engineered dog, why isn’t there a dog on the cover?
Because when readers are shopping for fiction, genre is their first consideration. It’s more important than plot and it’s way more important than the byline, unless the author is well known. This is an uncomfortable truth that was hard to accept. Most authors want some sort of illustration on the cover, a scene from the book. But that’s not what will catch a reader’s eye. Readers know what they’re looking for, and first and foremost, they’re looking for their genre.
Harry and I write cyberpunk. You can call our books near-future thrillers if you’re feeling fancy. We abide by the tropes of our genre, giving readers exactly what they want. The new cover tells readers that yes, this is the kind of book they are looking for. It’s up to the blurb and the first few pages to ultimately sell the book, but if our novel’s cover doesn’t scream “cyberpunk!” then the reader won’t even get that far.
Plus, the new cover just looks really, really cool. That glowy effect? It’s not just in the backlit ebook. The paperback has it too. See?
Goodbye pen name, hello real names.
I used to share a pen name with my co-author, Harry Campion. We released four novels in the Detroit Next series under the name MH Mead. However, it’s not working for us anymore. In fact, we’re not sure it ever did. Starting this fall, we’re killing the pen name and re-issuing the novels under our real names.
A shared pen name seemed to make sense at the time. Back in 2010 when we were starting our collaboration, indie publishing hadn’t taken off yet, and traditional publishing was still an author’s best choice. But when we approached editors and agents, they said, “Readers don’t like co-authored books.” A trip to any bookstore would show how false that was, but we were still told that over and over.
When we started submitting our co-authored novel under a single pseudonym, we quickly got several offers of representation from agents. So we started to think that maybe there was something to this idea of a single pen name. Our agent was cool with a co-authored novel, but he still thought it was better to submit it under a single name.
Within a year, we’d fired our agent and turned our back on traditional publishing, but some of the bad advice we’d been given along the way stuck with us, including the idea of a shared pen name.
Four novels later, we’ve come to see that a shared author name comes with numerous downsides and few—if any—upsides.
A shared name makes it harder to promote the books, since any blog posts or social media we engage in has to make it clear who the author is. Guest blogs and interviews always start with a long paragraph of explanation about our co-authorship. Readers had to figure out who we were before they could hear what we had to say. The short stories we’ve written by ourselves aren’t linked to the novels in Amazon’s system, so no cross selling is possible. Even hand-selling books to people we know has a barrier, since readers can’t readily identify with an author who doesn’t actually exist. We also lost street cred with our students. Teaching is a huge part of our identities, and having books with our names on them helps our credibility.
I’m not exactly sorry that we tried this experiment. Now that we know what doesn’t work, we can try rebranding the books with our own names in hopes that it works better. The timing is good, too. Harry and I have a new novel ready to go, and we’ll be able to reissue the older books quickly. We hope to get some momentum for the series by publishing the novels every few months.
We’ll be updating the covers as well. The first one is ready to go and we’re excited to share. Look for a new novel in the Detroit Next series by Alex Kourvo and Harry R. Campion coming to (virtual) bookshelves this fall.
Please play along as I give my quarterly update.
Back in January, I made a pact with my brother. We each committed to doing 2017 of something in the year 2017. For him, it was running 2017 kilometers. For me, it was writing 2017 pages.
We did the math. To reach our goals, he would have to run 5.5 km per day and I’d have to write 5.5 pages per day. If you figure an industry-standard 250 words per page. It’s about 1400 words every day.
My brother is keeping me accountable, but public accountability helps too. So I need you to ask me all the tough questions about how I did this quarter. Ready?
You: Did you reach your goal or what?
Me: Close. Sooooo close. I wrote 125,318 words, which is less than 750 words (3 pages) short. But I had a cushion from the first quarter, so I’m still ahead for the year.
Of that, 80 percent was fiction (short stories, progress on the novel, writing exercises) and 20 percent was nonfiction (blog posts, book reviews, class materials for my writing workshop).
You: Was the second quarter easier or harder?
Me: It was harder. A lot harder. I was busier, for one thing. My volunteer job needed me almost every day in May and my basement flooded and generally, life happened. I didn’t use that as an excuse. I still got my words done, but some nights I didn’t start writing until 9:00 at night.
Also, this wasn’t new anymore. The first quarter was a fun challenge. By March, the newness wore off and reality set in. I realized that woke up every single morning already 1400 words behind.
You: So why not give up?
Me: Oh, hell no. I’m in it to win it.
From now on, I will allow myself a deliberate day off once a week. I’ll have to increase my word count on other days to make it up, but it will be worth it. I think that by taking a day off once a week, I’ll feel more in control of my output, and less like I’m always scrambling to catch up.
You: So you wrote your little exercises or whatever, but readers only care about finished, edited work. Did you publish anything this quarter?
Me: I published two more stories under my super-secret penname. The rest of my word count went toward progress on two new novels, which are nowhere near finished.
You: You’re still not sharing your secret pen name with anyone?
Me: Nope. Taking that to my grave.
You: How many words in this blog post?
Me: 455 words, and I’m totally counting them toward next quarter.
About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. She is writing half a million words this year.